Several researchers from Wayne State University in Detroit had good cause to celebrate Wednesday after scientists at the CERN laboratory near Geneva, Switzerland announced they had data supporting the existence of the most elusive particle in physics.
The Higgs boson is a particle thought to give matter mass that is predicted by the standard model of particle physics. Using an accelerator, CERN scientists in two separate experiments created a particle that holds many of the properties theorized for the Higgs boson.
Their discovery is based on complementary research conducted at the recently closed Collider Detector at Fermilab outside of Batavia, Ill., which had Wayne State University faculty on its team.
"I feel fantastic," said Dr. Robert Harr, a professor in WSU's Department of Physics and Astronomy. "To finally convince ourselves that this is the Higgs boson will take more work, but the results themselves are just fantastic. This particle has been hunted for the last 45 years."
Harr has been involved in checking data before it is used in final analysis. Although the collider closed last year, data from the project is still being analyzed. Harr's colleague in the department, Dr. Paul Karchin, was also involved with that research, along with Mark Mattson, a research scientist in physics, Alfredo Gutierrez, research engineer in physics and Christopher Clarke, a physics graduate student. A total of 700 physicists from 61 institutions and 13 countries are involved in research with the CDF.
The WSU group has been involved in the project for over 10 years and has played a leading role in the research there. They were responsible for precise calibration of the calorimeter electronics, which play an important role in getting accurate measurements. Fermilab's equipment had logged 500 trillion collisions since March 2001. The CDF's latest findings were released on July 2.
Harr said scientists weren't sure if anything would turn anything up when they started the experiment.
"It's almost like nature's trying to hide it," he said. "We'd been closing in at lower masses and higher masses. This was the one region left. It's probably the Higgs boson."
Although he is unsure how the research will be used by future generations, he speculates it could potentially allow scientists to alter the mass of electrons. He concedes that the theory behind the particle's proposed existence is a little bit strange.
"It's just beautiful," he said. "All the particles we have -- electrons, quarks -- have to start out with no mass. It requires the Higgs mechanism, this crazy idea where we start out where particles have no mass and result in particles getting mass."